Tuvalu’s outer islands – seeing a country

Day 3,403 since October 10th 2013: 201 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

There is a snake in paradise

pano

I have had the privilege of visiting eight of Tuvalu’s nine islands. And as it is with most things in life, the more time you spend on something, the more invested you get

 

Last week’s entry: Timeless Tuvalu – yes, there’s little time left

 

If you were to test drive twenty different vehicles or view twenty different apartments then you would feel rather experienced at the end. I feel the same way about countries. I have the memories of two-hundred countries to compare Tuvalu to. The high volume makes it easier to evaluate a country, a town, a person… yet, sometimes we misjudge something in spite of experience. Now that I have had a chance to visit eight of Tuvalu’s nine islands I look back at what I wrote in last week’s entry with an unchanged mind. I really don’t think Tuvalu is sustainable as a modern country. But my goodness there is a lot in Tuvalu which deserves to be preserved. If you would like to know more about those thoughts then head back to last week’s record long and very detailed entry. This entry will be full of photos and stories from four more outer islands.

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Pigs reached the Pacific with the early settlers about 3,500 years ago. There's lots of pig farming in Tuvalu. The very first thing I saw when I reached Tuvalu were three men "bathing" with a dead pig at the wharf. It's an easy way to clean out the blood.

Funafuti is the main island, the capital, and something of a melting pot. With about half of the country’s population, Funafuti makes up a huge mix of people from the outer islands. You can ask any Tuvaluan which island is the best and they will always reply with the name of their home island. I had a ferry ticket to join the state-owned ferry Nivaga III to the two southern islands: Nukelaelae and Niulakita. Unfortunately, the ships crane was broken and there was no point in leaving if the good ferry couldn’t lower the heavy tenders into the water and offload cargo. Spare parts are, according to many seafarers, a huge problem for Tuvalu. If you are at a port in Australia then you might have them the next day. If you are in Tuvalu then you could be waiting for months. I used to think Tuvalu had two state-owned boats but it turns out they have four (at least). Having learned about the delay I popped into Acting Director Nito Lipine’s office (marine department) to say hi and hear how he was doing. Nito told me that the good ship Tala Moana (story of the sea) was about to leave for two of the central islands and suggested I could join. I had 90 minutes to head back to the hotel, pick up some USD, head to the bank, line up for the exchange, line up for the cash payout, buy my ticket for the voyage, hand over my paper slip to the logistics guys, return to the hotel, pack my bag, and reach the wharf. Was I going to do that? Heck yeah!! Let’s see some more of Tuvalu!!

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Capt. Logo and his Chief Mate on the bridge of the good ship Tala Moana.

The good ship Tala Moana was built in the USA back in 1980 and has had a rich life. At one point she was flying an Australian flag while servicing rigs in the offshore sector. She was built to be at sea for many days and therefore has a huge tank. This now comes in handy when Tuvalu distributes diesel to the outer islands. As such Tala Moana (previously Grayscout) was set to do a fuel run to Vaitupu and Nukufetau and then return to Funafuti. As with many things in Tuvalu the good ship wasn’t just going to deliver fuel. There was some cargo too and a few passengers including a local health team armed with information about typhoid and dengue. Under the command of Captain Logo we sat out across the lagoon, crossed the reef, and entered the open ocean just before sunset. The next morning we arrived at Vaitupu: the largest atoll in Tuvalu by landmass and home of Tuvalu’s secondary school which was set to open up on February 6th. An island with about 1,000 beating hearts.

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Vaitupu, Tuvalu.

Tuvalu is a highly religious country and there is not an island without a church. They are predominantly protestant (Christians) and religion plays a major role within society. Vaitupu has a large church with two tall towers and I quickly made my way up one of them. It gave a great view of a neatly organized society.

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People are really small in Tuvalu ;) Or are the pulaka leaves large? Vaitupu, Tuvalu.

I met a few people and small talked here and there. It’s easy to strike up a conversation in Tuvalu. Very easy. My first stop was going to be at the secondary school. I was quite tired after a rather uncomfortable night lying on a narrow bench onboard Tala Moana. There was nowhere I could hang my hammock. The crew was great though and made the ship feel like a home. The chef had served some good food. I might have had too much. Especially during the evening when I enjoyed his marinated raw fish with rice. During the night the ship was moving about and I felt uneasy which had me get up and go to the toilet. I had barely locked the door before I was vomiting raw fish and rice into the sink. Afterwards I felt perfectly fine, cleaned up after myself, and went back to sleep. I liked the ship but the first night onboard had left me knackered. Now on land I followed a dirt road out of Vaitupu’s urban area and quickly found myself surrounded by forest in a very quiet environment. The loudest thing around me were my footsteps. Some gardening was visible here and there. There was that pleasant smell of wet warm soil. Farming is hard in Tuvalu. The soil is generally not good for growing crops and needs to be cultivated. On several of the outer islands I saw pulaka, which is also known as swamp taro. It is a source of carbohydrates so I consider them to be “island potatoes”. Pulaka leaves are much larger than taro leaves and the roots are larger and coarser. It tastes good and is one of several staple foods.

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Motufoua Secondary School was established in 1905. Vaitupu, Tuvalu.

I reached the school and met a very chilled guard who called me “bro” ten times within a minute. I was permitted to walk inside the school compound which looked abandoned. The students left last year for their end of the year break. A man was cutting grass on a huge field far away from me. I walked into a classroom and could see the last things written on the whiteboard before the students left: “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”. I passed the female dorm rooms. The secondary school is a boarding school and when busy some three-hundred students might be making noise and bringing life to the compound. There’s a tragic story about a fire at the female dormitory which took place on March 10th 2000. Students were locked in and could not escape. Eighteen students all around fifteen years old lost their lives. I don’t know if I would have included this if I had not met one of the fathers. He lost his oldest daughter. In contrast to that sad story I could take a few more steps and then I suddenly found myself standing on a pristine beach. Nobody can default Tuvalu on tropical beauty.

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Right beside the Secodary School. Vaitupu, Tuvalu.

Last week I wrote that a part of Tuvalu’s income comes from seafarers. I have indeed met many Tuvaluan seafarers. Some at sea and especially onboard Swire Shipping’s vessels. I have met even more on Tuvalu’s outer islands. They often tell tales from the past, typically about sailing on German vessels, and I have met surprisingly many who have been to Denmark. This week I learned that while there used to be plenty of work for Tuvaluan seafarers there are now few jobs left. Times have changed.

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I'm guessing a former seafarer? Vaitupu, Tuvalu.

While I was walking from one end of Vaitupu to the other I heard someone say: “hi, are you that Red Cross guy that travels?” It was a sister of Tuvalu Red Cross Secretary General Tagifoe Taomia. She invited me to sit down and have a coconut. She introduced me to those around us and we small talked while I was taught to chew into the fruit of a screw pine. Stringy but good. Just as I was about to swallow, I was told not to. “Just swallow the juice and spit out the fiber”. Then someone else told me it was also okay to swallow the fiber :)

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Screw pine and coconut. Vaitupu, Tuvalu.

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Mrs. Tagifoe's sister and brother in-law. For the photo I'm wearing a traditional headband of flowers. It smells nice. I've seen Tuvaluan carpenters at work wearing them.

I made it back to the boat but was then told that I really had to see the food which had been prepared at the maneapa (community hall). I really didn’t feel like heading back. I was exhausted, I had just walked 13km (8mi) on the islands in the humid heat, I just wanted to lie down. But I was told I really had too. I made it back into the tender, across the sea, and back to land. Then I took my shoes off and entered the maneapa which was nice enough. Some fifty people were inside and I could see a projector lighting the words “typhoid” and “dengue” on to a screen. The health authorities from onboard Tala Moana were there too. The sickness had not arrived to Vaitupu yet but it surely would. Was it safe to open the school? Who would take care of students if they fell ill? Shoud parents send their children to school? It was an orientation/debate. It all went down in Tuvaluan and afterwards there was food. Food is very central to Tuvaluan culture. I saw the food, excused myself, and made my way back to Tala Moana. I might have offended some people by not eating anything. I don’t know? Vaitupu is one of my favorite islands.

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The lavish food arrangement at the maneapa. Vaitupu, Tuvalu.

That night we reached Nukufetau and it was unsure if we would finish delivering fuel in the evening, and I would miss my chance to see the island in daylight? As such I opted to venture around at night which had its own charm but really limited the experience. I did however sit under the stars for a while, drinking Milo (chocolate milk), while speaking to the chief officer of Tala Moana. For some reason Milo is really common in Tuvalu and is often offered.

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Delivering fuel to Nukufetau.

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Nukufetau by night. I managed to plant both my feet into a deep puddle.

If TIA is “This is Africa” then TIT must be “This is Tuvalu”. I don’t think I have experienced anything in connection to Tuvalu which has not been delayed in one form or the other. Tala Moana was now carrying a patient with an IV attached to her hand. She had joined the ship in Vaitupu and was to be brought to the hospital in Funafuti. So, we now had a sense of urgency. But the patient left the boat to go and visit Nukufetau which prompted some of the seafarers to questions what kind of sickness she had? They were hinting that she might just be using a government scheme to get a free ride to the capital. Or maybe she was sick. Cargo operations were still going on the next morning which gave me time to explore Nukufetau for a while during daylight. Another nice island and it was Captain Logo’s home island. It had rained heavily and there were puddles everywhere. Another tiny island with constant motorbike traffic going across the narrow paths. I was able to connect to island WIFI on both Vaitupu and Nukufetau with the login I bought on Nanumaga in the north. There’s no cell phone service on the outer islands. People generally look more fit on the outer islands. They seem to eat more locally sourced food and get more exercise through daily chores, farming and fishing compared to in Funafuti. It was a short but nice visit to Nukufetau and we were soon heading back to Tala Moana again.

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I've spotted Tuvalu Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Depots on 7 of 8 islands I've been too. Good job! And remember, the campaign to raise funds for Red Cross work in Ukraine is still going.

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Heading back to the good ship Tala Moana and returning to Funafuti.

Back in Funafuti I returned to Filamona Hotel and had a good night’s sleep in a bed which wasn’t moving and I woke up more or less rested, ready to join Nivaga III to the south islands. The crane had been fixed and she was ready to go. I’ve long ago become immune to the awe of palm trees, white sand beaches, and turquoise waters. But I can still see the beauty within it. I was certainly not in need of more tropical islands but I was keen on making the best of my time in Tuvalu and exploring more of the country. The best thing I have done in Tuvalu is undoubtedly reaching as many outer islands as possible. Before we head to the southern islands of Nukulaelae and Niulakita I’d just like to say that there’s some exciting news from our project partner ROSS ENERGY! They were Ross Offshore when I left home in 2013 until they became Ross DK, but now they are ROSS ENERGY!! Kidding aside I’m privileged to have their backing and Ross Energy forms an amazing team back home in Denmark.

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Elevating the green transition through knowledge, experience and long-term partnerships! :)

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When I rejoined the good ferry Nivaga III I was expecting to sleep on deck (as per last time) and hoped that I could secure the same spot where I hung my hammock on the journey heading north. To my surprise I was listed on the manifest as a 1st class passenger and was shown to a cabin? I was to share the cabin with two others. It was airconditioned and we had our own shower and toilet. TIT. The passenger in the cabin across from mine told me that there were few passengers heading to the southern island compared to the northern islands so they just offered everyone on deck an upgrade to cabins!? Wow!! Only in Tuvalu! Someone else told me that it was especially for me – but I know that other deck passengers had been moved into cabins too. It could have been a bit of both. Nivaga III was looking much better now with few passengers on deck and the toilets had been sanitized. She’s a fine vessel with a fine crew.

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Living it up!! My cabin on Nivaga III. Thanks for the upgrade :)

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Tuvalu's endless tropical beaches. Well, not endless. It took 40 min to walk around Nukulaelae.

We were traveling with the Finance Minister onboard as he had a meeting with the kaupule (island council) on Nukulaelae, which is his home island. An island which is known to have more money that the other islands and to be smart about investment. Penieli (Penny) who owns Filamona Hotel in Funafuti is also from Nukulaelae. I’ve come to know Penny well during my stay in Funafuti. Her brother is the Chief of Nukulaelae and she urged me to look him up when I got there.

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Pulaka, Nukulaelae, Tuvalu.

The ships schedule was to stay for about a day at Nukelaelae, then head to Niulakita for a day, then return to Nukulaelae for another day, and then make it back to Funafuti. Given that Chief Saliva (Penny’s brother) was more than likely busy with the minister I opted to look for him on the return and instead began my visit by hiking around the coast of the island. It took 40 minutes. Then I walked inland to explore. There’s a nice long (relative to the island) unsealed road leading from the wharf through some light forest up to the urban area. When the sun sits just right then it’s such a pleasure to walk the five minutes it takes to head down that road. There was however no lack of motorbikes passing me. Motorbikes and vehicles on an island you can walk around in 40 minutes.

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Harvesting toddy from a coconut palm. The ants like it too. Nukulaelae, Tuvalu.

The land appeared fertile and there was a huge field of pulaka growing outside the urban area. The island was full of building materials and Nukulaelae was coming to the end of a housing project where they had planned to build four (or maybe eight) houses a year. Raised modern housing sitting well above the ground on tall pillars. While Tuvalu has nine islands Niulakita “belongs” to Niutau and money is as such divided between eight islands. There’s a “bag of money” which is distributed equally between the eight islands every year. They get around $500,000 each. This offers some controversy among the islands as most islands have around 500 beating hearts while Nukulaelae only has around 300. Furthermore, Vaitupu has about 1,000 and Funafuti 5,000. In any case, it leaves Nukulaelae with more money per beating heart. I met a woman on Nukulaelae who told me that some of the other islands want to copy the design of Nukulaelae’s raised houses…and for that Nukulaelae wants money, because of course they are not helping for free. I guess Nukulaelae are the “Scotts” of Tuvalu’s islands.

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Niulakita straight ahead!

The next morning, we had made it to Niulakita. At this point Niulakita was the island I had the most interest in. It only has about twenty beating hearts living on it! The tiny reef island sits alone with more than 100km (60mi) to the nearest neighboring island. And the landing is notoriously dangerous due to rough seas. You cannot mention Niulakita without someone bringing up capsizing tenders and death. I was hooked!! Unfortunately, I left breakfast too late and missed the last tender from Nivaga III to the island. The Niulakita operation wasn’t like the other islands with tenders going to and from all the time. Few people meant very little cargo. Captain Leupena and the Chief Officer took pity on me and lowered a boat into the water so that they could tender me ashore. I wasn’t the only one who missed the tender. Two really nice guys who were recruiting young men for Tuvalu Maritime Training Academy had missed it too. I first met them when we headed to the northern islands a week earlier. The three of us entered the tender along with two experienced seafarers and towards the island we went.

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Fishermen returning to Niulakita. 

According to the seafarers the ocean was a “five” on the infamous “one to ten scale”. So it could have been better and it could have been worse. I began my exploration by walking inland on the island with just around ten houses. The sky looked ominously dark and oncoming rain was a certainty. That is another trade of Niulakita: plenty of rain. Niulakita is the island closest to Fiji and for some reason rainfall is heavy in the south while the north is more prone to drought.

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Niulakita's youth playing beach volley. Possibly the entire islands youth.

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Hmmm, that looks like rain? Niulakita, Tuvalu.

I figured I could walk around the island in just twenty minutes but the rain looked imminent. I sought shelter at the islands small maneapa which had similar trades to the maneapa in Niutau. There was a rock embedded in the floor at one end where only the chief may sit. The rock was in three colors from top to bottom: black, green, blue. In Niutau it had been: red, white, black. Interestingly the red-white-black colors could be found on the top of a pillar holding up the roof opposite of the black-green-blue rock. The rain came down HARD!! I figured it was just a brief shower but I was trapped there for several hours. Niulakita is the only island with free WIFI but I couldn’t get a signal due to the rain. When it lightened up a bit I made it across to Pastor Amasia whom I had briefly spoken to before the rain started falling. He invited me for lunch. His boys were hunting for crabs on the forest floor and quickly filled five buckets. Pastor Amasia had been on Niulakita for about a month of his four-year commitment as a pastor on the small island. It was his first posting. He had been a seafarer before. His wife Olivia offered me a glass of toddy. Toddy is a thing in Tuvalu where they “milk” sap from palm trees. You can drink it straight like that but it’s really sweet and spoils easily. They often boil it to give it a lifetime of 3-4 days. And it is often thinned with water before consumed. You can also boil it until it turns into a think red/brown molasses. You can also ferment it and get drunk off it. Coconut palms are simply amazing! There is nothing from the tree that cannot be used creatively.

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Pastor Amasia. A really nice man. Thanks for the hospitality. Niulakita, Tuvalu.

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It was a challenge to walk around Niulakita!! But we've been challenged before ;)

The rain finally stopped and I was able to make my way around the island. It took an HOUR to hike the 2.6km (1.6mi) due to a lot of rocks on one side of the island, lots of coastal erosion, lots of trees which had fallen into the sea, and the sea was also rising. It was definitely a challenge at times. The ocean was roaring violently and you could hear the water dragging heavy rocks into the sea and pushing them back up on shore. Not a place to get caught! It was however undeniably beautiful – even under a dark sky.

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Fresh fish! Niulakita, Tuvalu.

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Loading bags of coconut shells onto the tender. the shells can be used as firewood, as feed for the pigs, to extract oil from and more. Niulakita, Tuvalu.

Niulakita is also home to Tuvalu’s highest point which is said to be 4.6m (15ft). I had the coordinates and made my way through the forest until I was standing there. No need for supplemental oxygen. Then it was time to leave. I said farewell to Pastor Amasia and returned to the beach were the landing carved into the corral was completely covered in waves. Nivaga III sent a tender and the seafarers onboard were waiting outside the reef reading the swell and waves in order to get the timing right. Then they charged towards the island and we helped them once they reached the shore. The pastors sons loaded the tender with bags full of coconut shells while the seafarers fought the waves trying to keep the tender in place. Then we jumped in and off we went. There was a tense and very concentrated atmosphere as we navigated away from the island across the reef. And the mood lightened tremendously as we passed the reef. We were safe.

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Equipment used to build the new wharf at Nukulaelae, Tuvalu.

The next morning we had reached Nukulaelae again and after breakfast I boarded a tender and was brought to the newly built wharf on the small island. The wharf had made it safer to arrive. But Nukulaelae is another of several islands where boats can easily capsize. I sat for a while on a pile of building material and connected to the island WIFI when a man approached me and said that I shouldn’t sit alone. He had a small errand to run but would soon return and bring me back to his home. Ten minutes later I was seated at his home drinking a cool glass of toddy. It takes about 12 hours to fill a glass with sap from a coconut tree. He introduced himself by his full name but said I could call him “Afi”. He was a self-made mechanic, he had been a seafarer, he had worked at the police force, and he was now a magistrate on Nukulaelae. Afi was a nice guy and we talked for a few hours. As it turns out, Afi was on duty the night they arrested Paato for murder twelve years ago (last week’s entry). Everything connects in Tuvalu. I then met up with Chief Seliva who offered lunch (chicken and rice) before he wanted to show me their new runway!? Chief Seliva also opened a fresh coconut for me and one of his daughters asked me it I knew how to drink it :)

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Chief Seliva. Nukulaelae, Tuvalu.

We entered the Chiefs aluminum boat along with what I assume were three grandchildren and two young men. The small open boat was named “Tivoli” which Seliva told me means “large family”. Then we crossed the picture-perfect lagoon which had that blue color you only see in post cards. The water was clear and you could see the bottom. Across the lagoon we reached a pristine topical island which had some heavy machinery on it which had been brought from Fiji on a barge.

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Equipment used to build the airfield at Nukulaelae, Tuvalu.

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The airfield. I wonder who can afford the airfare? Nukulaelae, Tuvalu.

A short walk beyond the heavy machinery there was an unsealed runway which was ready for use. Thousands of palm trees had been cut down. The only thing left to build was the terminal building. Tuvalu has already secured a pilot and a 20-seat aircraft. Of course, a small pacific island with 300 people needs a runway? Chief Seliva explained that they planned to build a road at the far end of the island to connect it with the main island of the atoll. The amount of investment and infrastructure projects that is seeing daylight in Tuvalu is baffling.

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Children are children all over the world. Even far into the Pacific. Nukulaelae, Tuvalu.

I stand by my words from last week. There is something about Tuvalu. There is definitely something well worth preserving. Tuvalu is a beautiful and friendly country. The culture is unique and the islands are both similar and different at the same time. There is much in Tuvalu which I can draw parallels to across the world. The strong home island identity is no different from being proud of your state, your village, or your neighborhood somewhere else in the world. The desire to have the newest toys and to take part in modern society is present. Trends come and go. Modern tattoos, social media profiles, bling-bling and golden dreams. Why wouldn’t young Tuvaluans want to reach for the stars? I wouldn’t be surprised to find a supercar in Funafuti in a few years’ time. But the math does not add up. Tuvalu is far from self-sustainable and I doubt most Tuvaluans know how much their subsidized lifestyles really costs. The carbon footprint on each Tuvaluan must also be enormous. They were lucky when they got the .tv internet domain. They are lucky that the western world is competing against China in the Pacific. They were unlucky when their forefathers chose to settle on some low-lying infertile islands far into a vast ocean. It rather reminds me of the 2021 comedy/disaster movie “Don’t look up”. Well, I hope the best for Tuvalu. I really do.

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Being picked up by a stranger and offered transport in Funafuti. TIT.

 

  

 

 

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Mr.. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - successful but not happy, and definitely overworked

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Timeless Tuvalu – yes, there’s little time left

Day 3,396 since October 10th 2013: 201 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

There’s something about Tuvalu

pano

The official tourism site for Tuvalu promotes this slogan: “Timeless Tuvalu”. I know what they mean. But it could definitely also mean that Tuvalu has run out of time

The previous entry: The 1st entry of 2023: Welcome to Tuvalu

Hey there! Tuvalu is listed as one of the least visited countries in the world. But, so are many of the small island nations I have taken you too in the Pacific. Of the very few palangi’s (foreigners) that make it to Tuvalu, nearly none make it off the main island. The main island is an atoll called Funafuti and the largest island within the atoll is called Fongafale. I doubt that most visitors even know that. I recently went to the three northernmost islands and you can only imagine how few palangi’s make it out there. They are not connected by flight, they do not receive cell phone coverage, and on average they are inhabited by about 500 beating hearts each. I can speak passionately about Tuvalu, the kindness and the gentleness of the people, the uniqueness of the social bonds, the high engagement in social activities, and much more. Albeit, recently I have also been questioning if we can defend the existence of such a tiny country with such a tiny population which is so incredibly isolated far into a vast ocean? It would have made sense long ago when Tuvaluans could live off the land, fish in the sea, harvest coconuts, drink rain water, indulge in family, and participate in traditional and social life. It is now 2023 and people want smartphones, internet, Netflix, washing machines, t-shirts, toothbrushes, hair gel, modern housing, regular flights, ferries connecting the islands, modern medicine, educated professionals, cars, motorbikes, paved roads, soft drinks, glasses, etc. And it ALL NEEDS TO BE IMPORTED! I struggle to find fresh fish cooked with coconut milk. It’s easier to find a bacon and egg sandwich or chow mein. Nearly everything Tuvalu needs is imported over great distances with ships and airplanes to accommodate 11,000 beating hearts on a few rocks in the ocean. Can we accommodate that as a responsible species and guardians of this planet? Harsh? Yes! But you will enjoy this entry.

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You never know what the flight brings in. This is Danas from the previous entry. In the photo at 175 countries. Now at 177. Well done!

I see a lot of comments on the Saga’s social media which relates to sea level rise and Tuvalu sinking. It is also a prevalent topic on the internet in general. It is not untrue but it appears to me that people’s interest in “Tuvalu is sinking” is overshadowing much more pressing issues. The sea level likely wont swallow Tuvalu until after about 80 years. That means that anyone who will be reading this is likely dead by old age long before. A far greater problem for Tuvalu is that the country does not produce enough money to carry a modern lifestyle. Someone else has got to pay a part of the bill. That simply isn’t sustainable. Tuvalu’s primary income is derived from selling licenses for industrial fishing, remittances from Tuvaluan seafarers, and royalties for permitting usage of their internet domain (.tv). That internet domain was just a struck of luck for Tuvalu. They were handed out across the world back when the internet was new. Denmark got .dk hence it’s www.onceuponasaga.dk. Streaming services are crazy about .tv and pay millions in royalties to use it. Tuvalu has an income of many millions but not enough to run the country and is the recipient of substantial foreign aid. Beyond the finances there’s something else. You would have to see it too believe it but Tuvaluans prefer motorbikes over bicycles and some will not even walk a 5-minute distance. As across the entire Pacific Ocean (and much of the world) obesity has become a problem and what can positively be said about motorbikes in Tuvalu? They are noisy, they pollute, spare parts are expensive, they offer no exercise, they are costly, and they are heavy in weight, which plays into import costs. Every island in Tuvalu is small and flat. Bicycles are quiet, they do not pollute, they offer exercise, they come at low cost, they are easy to repair, they are lightweight - and as such more cost efficient to import. Yet – only children ride bicycles and once you reach age you get on a motorbike…or even worse: into a car! It is really hard to defend having a car for private use in Tuvalu. Some vehicles are however arguably required for an efficient society. Around 20-years ago Tuvaluans did ride bicycles but things have changed. Progress? Captain Tom “Stinger” Jordan from Top Gun delivered this wonderful line to “Maverick” back in the 1986 classic: “Your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash”.

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There was no lack of food :)

Let’s move on to the wedding I was invited to join. I believe that’s where I left you in the previous entry. Tuvalu Red Cross has been quite central to my visit in Tuvalu, giving me a warm welcome and supporting in various ways. I was invited by the groom’s mother, Mrs Sunema Maheu, who’s also with the Red Cross. She invited everyone. Weddings in Tuvalu, are as everything else, highly social events and I got the sense that anyone was welcome to join. I guess they never know if they are catering for 100 or 500 people. Food really didn’t seem to be the problem though! I cannot remember ever seeing that much food in one place! That was the most lavish buffet I have come across. I was sort of being guided by Mr. Kilima Kilima from the Red Cross. We first went through the buffet and then sat down on the floor near the corner of the large community hall. The color green appeared to be a theme but Mr. Kilimi said that it had no symbolic meaning. Someone else said that green was the color of “new life”. Across much of Africa I got used to crouching down and holding that position with my feet flat on the ground. In Tuvalu they sit on a mat and fold their legs. It quickly became uncomfortable for me and I had to change my position again and again. Mr. Kilima just smiled and rested in a lifetime of experience. There were almost constantly someone dancing for the bride and groom at our end of the community hall. The newly wed Mr. lelemia Maheu and Mrs Olepa Taleke sat opposite us, centered in the grand hall. Sometimes just a handful would be dancing for them and sometimes about 20 or even more. To show appreciation various people central to the wedding would walk up to the dancers and spray perfume on them. There was lots of happiness, love, and laughter. You could also pick out stereotypical characters as the funny uncle, the shy boy, the frowning grandmother, the proud dancer, the shy dancer etc. Nice to see the humanity in people. At one point I asked Mr. Kilima if he knew everyone at the wedding. He looked around and answered: “pretty much”. I then asked how many might be family? He smiled and said: “almost everyone”. There were hundreds of people there.

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Dancing was almost constant. It was lovely. 

Another little story I want to include before we move on to the adventures of the outer islands is Tuvalu prison. I don’t know why but I was a little surprised when I heard that they had one. I asked Mrs Penieli who owns Filamona Hotel how many might be imprisoned? She quickly answered: “three”. She also knew who they were and why they were there. All sentenced for murder and all given lifetime. Different stories though. The prison is just across the runway and behind two derelict firetrucks. A man was seated on a plastic chair just within the gate which was wide open. I said hello and asked him if he was a guard? Earlier in the day I had seen him walk out to the runway, pick a grass straw, and slowly walk back again. He introduced himself as an inmate. Sure, why not? Why wouldn’t Tuvalu’s prison be as laid back as everything else. Paato was his name. He was born in 1967 and has now served 12 years of a life sentence. We shook hands. Paato said the food was okay, the bed was okay, conditions were good, and that he was hoping to get his sentence reduced. According to Paato he got into a fight when he was 44 (my age) and the other man died. Involuntary manslaughter. Where else in the world do you walk up to an open gate at a prison and shake hands with an inmate convicted for murder? Oh well – where is he supposed to go? The 3 inmates are apparently frequently used to cut grass, clean up, and other forms of maintenance across the capital.

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You can spot Paato in blue in the bottom right.12 years already... 

As far as I’m concerned the cheapest place to be in Tuvalu is onboard a government ferry. My five nights onboard the good ferry Nivaga III ran me AUD 40 (USD 28) and I paid an additional AUD 15 (USD 10.50) for having meals included. Good meals too! Mostly rice and some meat. Consider that! 17 proper meals for USD 10.50!? The price is of course heavily subsidized by government. It is a good deal. And the round trip came with the unique experience of seeing the Tuvalu which few other visitors do. My USD 28 fare was for sleeping on deck and not in a cabin. That was fine with me. A much more local experience and a pleasant temperature. Most of the passengers rolled out thin mats and sat/slept/ate on those. I had my trusty hammock made out of the same fabric as they use for parachutes. It’s been with me since I left home. It was by no means comfortable but it worked. It also kept me off the deck which was infested with all sorts of creepy crawlies. Nivaga III was built in Japan 6-7 years ago. Japanese ships are well known for quality. The poor thing however looked much older already. The crew was nice and I shared the deck with about 20 other passengers. The order of the islands was changed as we were carrying a coffin with a deceased for a funeral on Nanumea. As such we headed the 460km (286mi) to the tiny atoll of Nanumea first.

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Onboard the good ferry Nivaga III.

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Nanumea, Tuvalu.

Nanumea seemed quite nice in its isolation. I imagine that there really isn’t much to do after a while and that everybody absolutely knows everybody. As I have mentioned before, I grew up in a small village of 1,200 beating hearts. Nanumea might have around 500 and they can’t just pop over to the neighboring village or to the city…because they are isolated faaaaaar into the pacific and surrounded by water. I was advised that the funeral would go on to around 3pm and that it was better to show respect by staying away. As such I opted to follow the coast to the far end of the atoll. I was quickly out of the urban area and it was hot. I’d seen a pretty impressive church in the urban area and once out in nature I came across a solar panel station, a grave yard, pigs within an enclosure and not much else.

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While I was minding my own business making my way forward I heard a man shout: “come and have some cold water!” I looked inland and saw a man standing by a house. He introduced himself as William and his son Taleka poured some water into my Salomon softflask. A filter is attached to the lid and as such I feel safe drinking water from here and there. I also shook hands with his wife and after some small talk I was off again. But I was now being tailed by Taleka on his bicycle. We made some small talk as I continued towards the end of the island and he was a sweet little boy. I guess I provided the entertainment for the day.

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Taleka - my tail :)

When the sand got deeper, I lost my tail and was on my own again. I reached the end of the island and turned up the other side and made my way up the other coast. Tuvalu certainly has beauty!! It was hot and humid. Truly hot and humid. At one point Taleka popped out of the forest to see how I was doing…or what I was doing. But I was soon on my own again. I knew that there was an old American WWII airstrip somewhere further up the island. And after a lot of walking, I found it. It was a huge opening within the palm tree forest. Some butterflies were floating about and a small frightened piglet dashed into the forest. Seven heavy machines stood across the airstrip from where I was. They were renovating it!? But why? There are only 500 people on the island and most would not be able to afford a flight. I would later learn that the airstrips renovation, an airplane, and plans to expand Tuvalu’s air transportation as a part the infrastructure strategy has been funded. More money being pumped into Tuvalu. There’s no limit to it. Onboard the ferry I met a delegation being led by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It was a very interesting assembly of people. A Japanese shipyard owner, a Japanese ship designer, a shipbroker, maritime experts…they are giving Tuvalu a new specially designed ferry which will cost around USD 35-40 million. Luis was also onboard. He is a Colombian architect living in Malaga (Spain). Luis is in Tuvalu working with Tuvalu Climate Change Department. Luis represents an organization (DT Global) which is interested in supporting the government in building hundreds of climate resilient houses in Tuvalu. There is so much investment in Tuvalu and many failed projects in its wake.

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The WWII airstrip under renovation. Nanumea, Tuvalu.

On my way back to town I made a stop at Williams house to say hi again (and ask for more water). It was also looking like there would be some heavy rainfall. I made it into shelter before it started pouring down. William wasn’t there but I spoke with his father who asked where I was from? “Denmark” I said and the man lighted up! “I once found a message in a bottle from a Danish seafarer he said”. The man then picked up a small notebook and went through the pages until he found a name and address of a man from Svendborg, Denmark. Svendborg is where the Danish Seafarers Academy is (and where my mother until recently lived). The bottle had been thrown into the Indian Ocean and had made its way to the shores of Nanumea. How about that! Unfortunately, he no longer had the letter or did not know where it was. It had stopped raining so I thanked him for the water and was once again on my way. I made my way back to the church and found that I had walked 12km (7.5mi). There was nobody inside the church. There were some arrows under the church tower pointing to the stairs which led upwards. It looked inviting. The church was by the way beautiful. The tower was quite the climb. Luis (the Columbian) was traveling with Mr. Lomi, an architect from Tuvalu. The only Tuvaluan architect according to himself. He is a slender man with a checky look in his eye. A few years back Mr. Lomi got caught in his open fishing boat while trawling. He couldn’t start the engine again and ended up drifting at sea for 59 DAYS!!! He drifted all the way from Tuvalu to Solomon Islands!!! Mr. Lomi got so desperate for water that he tried drinking from the ocean in moderation which led to a partial stroke and half his body being temporary paralyzed. Mr. Lomi was rescued and helped back to Tuvalu where he made some local press but that was it. What a story!! Anyway, Mr. Lomi told me that the old church tower (damaged by the harsh climate and time) was taller than the new one and that light from its top could be seen from Nanumaga - some 70km (43mi) away. The new tower was also tall and it provided a great view of the town area in both directions.

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View of Nanumea from the church tower.

Back on the ground I had a look around. A community hall, some small basic shops, the telecommunication office, a Red Cross depot, some building materials…a nice small and very quiet town. Clean. Then a woman said: “Hey – are you Thor?” She was with the Tuvaluan Red Cross and wanted to know if I had been received by a man at the wharf when I arrived? I hadn’t. Oh well. She was joining the ferry: “see you later”. I stood around for a while at the wharf looking at the small flatbottomed tender being offloaded and then loaded again. Once it returned to Nivaga III I was onboard and that concludes my visit to Nanumea.

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Still offloading our flatbottomed aluminum tender.

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We left for Nanumaga during the night. The lights were never turned off in my area. It was as bright as day under the florescent light. Breakfast at 07:00am and soon after I joined a tender to the shores of Nanumaga (pronounced Nanumanga). This one was much smaller than Nanumea and was a reef island. An opening had been carved into the reef and that was our landing point. Shoes and socks off and across the reef I went. Outer island number two. The urban infrastructure was much the same but smaller. No impressive church though. I walked straight across the island as if I had been there before. There was a rather impressive forest which offered some welcome shade.

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Nanumaga, Tuvalu.

It wasn’t long before I made it across the small island and onto the beach. The beauty was once again undeniable. I turned right and followed the coast. It took me 90 minutes to make it all the way around. 8km (5mi). The majority was sand beach but a fairly long stretch was made up of rocks. It was surprisingly clean.

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After I had made it around the island I walked inland again. I felt dehydrated and was looking for water. There are water tanks at every building for the rainwater collection. I found one and opened the tap, filled my softflask, and I was good to go. I was looking for the island laguna. I walked through the forest and eventually found it. It is a saltwater laguna.

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Nanumaga laguna.

At that point I was hoping to buy a coconut somewhere. I went back to the urban settlement and asked around. I was told that I would have to ask a family. I asked at a few houses but nobody was helpful. I abandoned that idea and went looking for the island telecom office which was a small shack with a friendly guy inside. AUS 5 (USD 3.5) for 1gb of government island wifi. The friendly man wrote down my login and password on a piece of paper. It worked surprisingly well and I quickly managed to download the most recent news podcasts and send a greeting to ultra-wifey. Then I felt like I was done with Nanumaga and ready to return to the ferry. The water had now come up and it was once again off with my shoes and socks. Everyone else was either barefooted or in beach slippers. I really liked Nanumaga. Very clean and a nice atmosphere. Sadly, I had very little interaction with people there.

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The ocean coming up over the reef while the crew is still unloading the tender.

The good ferry Nivaga III was getting filthier by the hour. The toilets, the showers, the floors…there was sadly a lot of disrespect from enough people to make it noticeable. Also, quite a few people chose to toss their waste overboard into the pristine ocean. I stood next to a seafarer and asked him where he was from? He was from Nanumaga, the very island we were at. I then pointed out two large soft drink bottles which had just been tossed into the ocean by someone. The seafarer shrugged and said that he had seen plastic in the rivers of Europe too.

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The last tender arrived with the last passengers and the last cargo. Nivaga III operated with two flatbottomed tenders. One aluminum and one wood. Whenever the wooden one was in sight, I could always see someone shoveling water out of it. Once it was back onboard, I could see how banged up the bottom and sides were from banging against the reef. Island life.

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The flatbottomed wooden tender.

The public toilets were now a disgrace! There were two on my deck. The one on the port side was in an unbelievable state?! The sink had almost been torn off, the toilet cover was torn off and on one side of the toilet and the seat was on the other side. Two used diapers had been rolled up and one was shoved in between some water pipes and the wall while another was between the damaged sink and the wall. Toilet paper and filth was washing about in a pool on the floor. What the heck was going on? It somehow continued to get worse over the following days. I think I’ve written about maintenance many years ago. It seems to me that some cultures put effort into maintenance and some do not. I remember sailing with two separate container ships within the North Atlantic Sea. One was ten years old but looked like it was thirty. The other was thirty years old but looked like it was ten. The difference in care and attitude is always visible.

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My goodness - in just three days?!

Niutao!! Even smaller yet. The smallest of the three. I looked upon her from Nivaga III and asked Mr.. Lomi what this island might be known for? He calmly said it was known for boats capsizing. But then he lighted up and said that it was known for the islanders advanced fighting skills. And also, for black magic. Once again, an opening had been carved out of the reef. No proper wharf. The conditions did look rather rowdy. Once our tender reached the reef and we were ready to get out it suddenly tilted hard to the right as waves were crashing underneath. The tender evened out and we got out.

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Made it to Niutao without capsizing.

This time I didn’t even walk inland. I just turned right and began to follow the coast counter clockwise. It is interesting what you might come across on such a walk. Beside the now standard beauty of the islands there were also some remnants of old vessels rusting away. There was very little left of what may have been rather large vessels once.

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An old ship slowly being dissolved by the sea.

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I spotted some old graves that were now at risk of falling over the side and down upon the beach. The land beneath the graves had eroded away.

Something particular was a stadium sized opening within the palm tree forest. Why had so many palm trees been cut down? I would later come to learn that they had been cut to accommodate a project in which a small wharf would be built. The project began five years ago and so far only the trees had been cut.

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New wharf project...5 years in the making...

The walk around the island was again mostly sand but with a greater part of the coast being covered in rocks compared to Nanumaga. They were harder to walk across so even though Niutao is smaller, and I only covered 6km (4mi) going around the island, it still took 90 minutes like Nanumaga. All three islands were clean but, in my opinion, Nanumaga was the cleanest. It was now time to explore the urban part of the island. It once again had a similar infrastructure to the others with the same facilities more or less. I found Luis over by the telecommunication office together with his delegation of architects and island representatives. I really like Luis who has a very kind and calm way about himself. Luis and his team had been meeting with the kaupule (island council) on every island and they were waiting to meet with Niutao’s kaupule when I showed up. Aparently the telecommunication office was closed but a man from the kaupule got me connected to a wifi signal and joked that I should share with everyone that internet is free on Niutao. “Come and visit Niutao” he said. Then the Asian Development Bank (new ferry) delegation showed up. One of them told me that a woman on a motorbike had been looking for me? It turned out to be the local Red Cross but I had missed them as I began my 90-minute island hike immediately on arrival (also, nobody had informed me to expect them).

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You can spot Branch President Pualeia Siitake laughing hard at my pronunciation of 1, 2, 3 in Tuvaluan (tasi, lua, tolu). That's how they do in Tuvalu. 

My afternoon now turned into a Red Cross Day. Tuvalu Red Cross Branch Secretary Lingo Telekau spotted me and invited me to get on the back of her motorbike. We then drove to the town center and she parked in the shade of a large tree next to the community hall. Volunteers were busy sorting women’s sanitary supplies from boxes marked Australian Aid. They were hoping to have them distributed the same day. I met Branch President Pualeia Siitake who also welcomed me. A very prominent church stood opposite to the community center and Mrs Telekau could tell me that this place divided the town into two halves. Two halves with friendly rivalry. Which ever side you lived on was the best and they would compete in the fatele dance around Christmas. She also showed me the inside of the community hall which was actually different to the halls on the other islands. A large rectangle hole in the floor had been filled up with rocks and covered by mats. This was used for the island’s fatale dance instead of the instruments on other islands. People would bang their hands against the mats/rocks to make the desired audio effect. There was also a rock embedded into the floor at one end of the hall. It was colored red/white/black from top to bottom and is where the matai (chief) sits. Apart from that the entire wall all around the hall was decorated with traditional artifacts and their local names, somewhat like a museum. Mrs Telekau pointed out a hollowed-out piece of wood used to call rain with black magic. Most items were however just ordinary traditional tools.

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Hygiene products for distribution.

Mrs Telekau then proceeded to show me the Red Cross depot which was near the hospital/clinic. I spotted the captain there who I had mostly seen together with the Asian Development Bank delegation. Good guy. Within the hospital I greeted the former Branch President who was a sick old lady with a kind smile and kind eyes. I shook her fragile hand. I was also brought to see the islands emergency generator and mobile desalination plant for fresh water production. Mrs Telekau also wanted to show me the damaged houses from Tropical Cyclone Pam which had ravaged the island years ago. We then returned to have lunch at the reverends house. Mrs Telekau is from another island but married a man from Niutao. There is definitely some rivalry between Tuvalu’s islands and everyone prefers their own island which is always the best. Mrs Telekau is very passionate and told me: “Live and die for Red Cross”. She envisions a future on Niutao with a Red Cross building, teachings of Red Cross history (dissemination), childcare for when parents need to leave the islands, and better care for the mentally disabled. I got the sense that they were hoping I could help with the funds but that is not within my scope as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross.

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Example: sensible import! Powers all the houses on Niutao.

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Example: moronic import!!! 

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Local style lunch at the reverends house.

As the day progressed I thanked the Red Cross and departed to join a tender back to the ferry. The water had now come up quite high above the reef and I can only describe our departure from the island as highly adventurous and exciting. I could easily envision boats capsizing in the treacherous waters.

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Calm before the storm...

That night I woke up around 03:00am as the wind was hauling and water was coming in sideways!!! Thunder and lightning, hard rain, and lots of wind. 3 or 4 of us took immediate action and were fighting to hold the ferries tarpaulin down and secure it to the ship with rope to shield the deck from the harsh weather. About twenty other passengers chose to sit and watch us. The drainage was blocked from all the garbage people had left on the floor and we on and off had to clean it to let the water run out and not have the entire deck flooded. A man lazily pointed at the drain when it again clogged up. A clear example of someone who sees the problem but does nothing to correct it. Around 03:30am we had won the battle and the deck was calm from the storm outside. The good ferry was moving heavily about in all directions.

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The good ferry Nivaga III could do with a good exterminator.

There is so much more I could tell you. But I guess this is already a record long entry. I hope you have enjoyed it. I was absolutely exhausted when we made it back to Funafuti. The distance I had covered on the islands, the strong sun I had encountered, the heat and dehydration, the uncomfortable nights, the movement of the ferry, the storm. Yeah. I was pretty knackered. But back at Filamona Hotel a surprise was awaiting me. You just don’t know who might arrive on the next flight to Tuvalu. A few health experts from Fiji have arrived to access the growing suspicion of typhoid cases in Funafuti. But there was also a tall man from Turkey named Murat. He had actually interacted with me on Instagram a few weeks ago as he shared my departure video from Fiji on his own channel where he has 130,000 followers. When I met Murat he was only 1 country away from reaching every country. He is a spirited traveler, a math teacher, and a restaurant owner. He in fact has fifteen restaurants in Turkey which has enabled him to travel without working. The travel community at NomadMania had not heard of him and they usually have a pretty good idea about who’s close to reaching every country. Murat had so to speak flown under the radar. Who knew that could be done in today’s day and age.

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You never know what the flight brings in. Murat can be found as @varunagezgin on IG.

As we approach the end of this entry, I hope we can all agree that there is both something special and wonderful about Tuvalu. An Aussie friend of mine once told me that a church is not a building. He explained that a church is the people. The people can be anywhere and are not restricted to a building. Historically people have always moved to find better land. If it got to hot or to cold then people would move. They would take their community, their culture, their knowledge, and everything which they were with them. A nation can relocate although it seems like a foreign thought today. Nobody in their right mind would invest their money on land in Tuvalu. I spoke to a Tuvaluan who laughed at the thought and was in the process of purchasing real estate in Fiji. Tuvalu will exist where it is now for another generation or two. But Tuvalu will not remain at the same coordinates for a thousand years. Tuvalu has less time than most. Timeless Tuvalu.

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I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

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Mr.. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - off on new adventures

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The 1st entry of 2023: Welcome to Tuvalu

Day 3,382 since October 10th 2013: 201 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

Tuvalu at last – the Pacific is done

Untitled

Reaching Tuvalu is yet another major milestone. It has been an uphill battle and we are now left with two countries. But do not make the mistake of thinking we are home free. The road ahead is long.

Last years entry: The final entry of 2022: status, love, and global improvement

Happy New Year and welcome to 2023. Hopefully our last year within the Saga. Forgive me for being tired. 343,770km (213,654mi) is after all no small distance to travel over land and sea. And our more than nine years is no small thing either. A few people have suggested that I should willingly prolong the Saga to ten years as a romantic notion. Those people have no idea and should try this on their own body. The Saga is by far the hardest thing I have ever undergone. But enough about that for now. My first New Year’s Eve in Fiji became my first without alcohol. I joined the celebrations for a few hours at Albert Park and there might have been thousands of people there. The mood was good and most people were calm bordering docile. What I assumed to be radio hosts were up on a stage drumming up an atmosphere and a few hundred people were dancing and jumping up at front. Music was booming from the speakers. There was no alcohol at the event and I didn’t even notice until the next day. Midnight came and so did the countdown. There was some fireworks and a tank truck full of water rolled out into the crowd at midnight, a hose was attached and water was released. Maybe a hundred people danced around under the hose getting soaked. The water was very local and you could easily avoid getting wet. That’s all I saw of the water I’ve heard of for Fijian New Year. No baby powder where I was. It was nice though but also a little lonely. I didn’t run into anyone I knew and I was in bed before 01:00am.

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Finally boarding MV Manu Folau. Joji Tamani with the impressive beard!

16 days after the ETD (estimated time of departure) of the good ferry MV Manu Folau, she actually left. I understand the delay, although I wasn’t a fan of it. She’s from 2002 which makes her an old lady in a tough climate. She needed some repairs and it was during Christmas and New Year. Not an easy time to come by spare parts, workers etc. And Fiji customs and immigration also took their time in clearing the departure. It all adds up. Joji (my host) gave me a ride to the port. We made a stop by a money exchange as Tuvalu doesn’t have any ATM’s. I had withdrawn plenty of Fijian dollar but wasn’t permitted to exchange them to Australian dollar (which they use in Tuvalu) because I didn’t have a flight ticket?!? I outlined how ridiculous that was to the woman behind the counter and she fully agreed. Okay, I would have to deal with the exchange rates in Tuvalu. Joji was given permission to drive inside Suva Port and park right next to the ferry. By far the easiest entry I’ve had into the port :) He’s such a rock solid guy. Should you ever need a world class guide in Fiji then do reach out to him: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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It was mostly a calm crossing though with a lot of pitching.

The voyage across from Suva to Funafuti took four nights. I decided to use motion sickness pills for the entire voyage which was a good call. I don’t know if it was the pills which made me drowsy or my overall exhausted ness, maybe both, but I suspect I slept 16-18 hours/day while onboard. I was basically only up and out of my cabin for meals and to conduct a Harry Potter marathon of all eight movies (did it). Man they are long! I would often watch about an hour and then decide to sleep instead.

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My cabin. Fortunately nobody else showed up so it was all mine. It was unbearable hot the first night. I nearly couldn't breathe. The 2nd night the ventilation was on.

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First meal onboard.

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On day two I opened the door to this!! Apparently the septic tank had overflowed. It was spilling out and washing about on the floor. The crew was really helpful and quickly fixed it.

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The fellow across from my cabin had a huge speaker (see above) and played out music loud!! Lots of music and laughing onboard. Lots of excitement. Unfortunately also late at night and very early in the morning. But I'm happy for those who were heading home.

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One evening there was noise from the bow. Apparently the anchor chain had not been pulled up tight enough ex Fiji. So they set out to tighten it.

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The guys in the galley. The entire crew was really kind and helpful. Good crew! :)

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Funafuti Port. Our friends at Swire Shipping who have put so much effort into port safety would cringe at the stewedores who showed up in beach slippers and some even barefootted :)

Tuvalu at last!!! My goodness. They only really opened up the country from lockdown on December 1st 2022. I reached Fiji back on November 12th. I boarded MV Manu Folau on January 5th. Things are definitely not moving as fast as I hoped for. Before leaving the ferry, we had to deal with customs and immigration. They were friendly and easygoing but it seemed that some of the passengers were hiding from them? There were several announcements calling people to get processed by the authorities. I was standing outside overlooking the port when a woman walked up to the ship: “are you Mr. Pedersen? I got tired of waiting!” It was Tuvalu Red Cross Secretary General Tagifoe Taomia. We agreed that I should wait at the port gate and that she would come back. Manu Folau came alongside at 08:00am and I left the ferry shortly past 11:00am. I passed through a second customs and immigration checkpoint and a health/quarantine team too. Really easy and friendly. No testing for COVID-19. But vaccination was a requirement to buy the ferry ticket. I waited outside the port for about twenty minutes and then Tagifoe returned with a big smile and welcomed me to Tuvalu. The Sagas final country within the Pacific Ocean!

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The wonderful Secretary General Tagifoe Taomia at the National Bank.

Tuvalu Red Cross Society became the first National Society to receive me at arrival across the entire Pacific. That makes Tuvalu special. Tuvalu is in fact remarkably special. Tagifoe asked me what I needed as we were driving towards “down town” of the long slim atoll. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day. She parked her car next to the airport building which is at the center of the island. Most things seem to be around the airport terminal: The National Bank, Tuvalu Telecom, the runway (obviously), the Government of Tuvalu, and the Police Station. We first got me set up with a internet. I actually had a simcard which Riza Rasco had given to me after her visit. It was registered in her name but the kind staff at Tuvalu Telecom just reregistered it to me. Then we topped it up an I was soon online. Tuvalu doesn’t have an undersea cable and internet comes through a satellite connection. There’s just one provider. So, it’s neither particularly cheap or fast. But it’s okay. Next stop was the bank where I exchanged 1,000 FJD to AUS. The money was counted and I received a receipt at one counter and then got in line for the exchange at another counter. Done. Super friendly. Tagifoe offer lunch at Funafuti Lagoon Hotel. And then we checked me in at Filamona Hotel. Everything in short walking distance around the airport terminal. What an amazing hospitality I have found in Tuvalu!

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It's just nice.

Before disembarking MV Manu Folau I was briefly up on the bridge to ask how much distance we had covered (1,191km/740mi). I also asked when the ferry might return to Fiji? A man told me it might not return at all. But that the scheduled return was set for February 7th. Hmmm…I was hoping for something much earlier. And certainly not the risk of no return at all. As such I headed straight to Tuvalu Government after Tagifoe and I parted. Within the Government building I found my way to Acting Director Nito Lipine of the Marine Department. I had been in touch with Nito via email from Fiji ever since Riza Rasco visited Tuvalu and established the connection. Nito was in his office and delivered a big smile when he realized who I was. He also confirmed that the ferry would return in February. I asked Nito if that was 90-95% sure and he replied that it was 100% sure. So, there you go!! We have Director Nito Lipine’s assurance :)

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Acting Director Nito Lipine in his office.

I then proceeded to look for a good location for my “arrival photo” and settled on the runway. The runway is incredibly central to life in Funafuti. Funafuti is the largest of Tuvalu’s nine islands and is home to about half of the countries 11,000 beating hearts. Funafuti isn’t a large island and the 1,524m (5,000ft) runway takes up a lot of space. There are currently three flights a week: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. A Fiji Airways aircraft (ATR-72) lands around 11:00am and takes off again about an hour later. The rest of the time the runway is used as a recreational area with children playing and lots of sports and games. People also just sit down to chat or use their phones. But we are talking about several hundreds of people every day. It is quite something. So the runway seemed like a good place for the photo.

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My arrival post did immensely well on all platforms with amazing attention and lots of love from huge numbers.

Almost as soon as I had taken the photo a sadness started to creep up on me. It grew and grew until it was rather intense. It was like a wave of sadness had washed over me and it was hard to deal with. It continued for three days from when I woke up in the morning until I went to bed at night. I should have been happy because we had made it to Tuvalu and everyone was nice but I felt sad. I’ve been flirting with “depression” several times within the Saga. I don’t feel like it’s fair to call it depression to those who are clinically depressed. I have before described it as a road where you are fine at one end and depressed at the other. I have at times walked quite far down that road – or at least so it feels. And relatively easy tasks become hard. Something simple as packing my bags, which I have done thousands of times, became demanding and took much longer than ordinarily. Have no doubt that the self-imposed prison of Once Upon A Saga and its three cardinal rules are a significantly hard ordeal. Furthermore, I am a person who puts the bar rather high for myself. I am also very aware of how long the road is ahead of us. And how demanding it will be to reach the final two countries. We are not a few weeks away for completing the Saga. We are likely six months of effort from doing so. Fortunately, the sadness began to lift after about three (long) days. Ultra-wifey was naturally supportive from afar. “Take a rest” I hear them say. But there is no rest as long as I’m within this. We need to finish the Saga one way or the other.

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It is very easy to fall in love with Tuvalu. Tuvalu means “eight standing together”. “Valu” is eight in Tuvaluan. There is much of the language which carries over from Samoan and Tongan such as the greeting “Talofa” (hello), “Fafetai” (thank you), “Fale” (house/building), “Tofa” (goodbye), “Palangi” (foreigner), also several numbers and more. Some of the games they play and the traditional cooking also resembles Samoa and Tonga. It is also well documented that Tuvalu was populated by people from those countries. Originally just eight of the nine islands which supposedly is the namesake. To describe Funafuti as laidback simply isn’t enough. There’s a really calm and friendly atmosphere with few cars but relatively many mopeds cruising about. Meeting anyone feels like engaging with a friend. Many seem to have the ability to smile with their entire body. What a remarkable a unique country. Tiny islands in a deep vast ocean. A tragedy is looming as there is likely no future for this country. Tuvalu is the worlds smallest UN member and holds the 3rd smallest population of the 193 UN member states. You may have heard of the threat of rising oceans and intensifying storms. Sure, that’s definitely a part of the bleak future. Another reality is that there isn’t much prospect in such a small and isolated nation. Nearly everything is import based, there are few jobs, and advanced education takes place in other countries such as Fiji, USA, NZ or Aussieland. Sure – its lovely in Tuvalu. It’s a country which simply might not exists in a not to distant future. What a shame.

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Not long ago there was a draught and most water tanks nearly sat empty. It's rain and hurricane season now and the tanks are full again across the board. Tuvalu is dependent on rainwater collection.

For a large portion of my life, I grew up in a small town called Bryrup. It’s in central Jutland in Denmark and was home to about 1,200 beating hearts during my childhood. It is a beautiful town. While Funafuti is supposedly 3-4 times larger in population it simply feels smaller than Bryrup to me. Bryrup has far more advanced architecture and infrastructure and a faster pace. If you were to search a dictionary for “laidback”, “peaceful”, or “friendly” then Funafuti should appear. As such I had one of my biggest experiences in the past nine years when the ATR-72 landed in the middle of everything!! Just the noise of the airplane on its own!!! The extreme contrast of palm trees and lazy dogs sleeping in the shade versus the technical wonder of manned flight!! Since my relatively quiet arrival by sea I had spent 24hrs in what I would describe as a quiet and sleepy village and suddenly a 72 seat aircraft came out of the sky, turned at the end of the runway, parked in the town center and completely dominated the environment!! It was as if aliens had just landed! Dust was shot into the air behind the roaring engines and the sound was simply deafening. And extraordinary experience of contrast!! I was dumbfounded as I stood there and watched just 30m (100ft) away. I cannot explain it better than that. And some 30-45 minutes later it took off again and it all went silent and sleepy again!! Just wow!!

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Ultra-wifey will appreciate the many dogs that showed up too.

It is a bit of a spectacle for those living in Funafuti too. At least some people showed up to watch. A siren went off three times before the aircraft landed. Sort of like how they announce the opera is about to begin after a pause. There’s a team that chases dogs off the runway by throwing rocks at them. Some of the groundcrew were in beach slippers and cargo shorts. A firetruck was brought out next to the runway too. It is well organized of course. It just feels so unlikely. I’ve tried to imagine a 72 seat aircraft landing in the village where I grew up? That is just too unrealistic. A 4-6 seat aircraft maybe – but 72 seats? It’s not all that small.

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Such lovely people at TRCS - good food too :)

The Tuvalu Red Cross Society (TRCS) is naturally also made up of truly kind people. Kindness, smiles, and laughter is a real theme in Tuvalu so far. They are bright and competent as well. I’ve already interacted with them three times. Secretary General Tagifoe on arrival, the following day she took me to their headquarters and introduced me to their small team, and on day three I was invited back for lunch and a proper sendoff to Assistant Health Officer Beverly Yee who’s off to study for three years in Fiji. It was also a welcome to me but mostly about Beverly. And definitely about food! :) I hope to share much more about TRCS over the coming weeks but for now should know that they were absolutely instrumental in getting some 90% of Tuvaluans COVID-19 vaccinated which in turn opened up the borders which meant that the Saga could move on. It naturally also speaks volumes for the health of Tuvaluans ;) TRCS is naturally also highly involved in disaster preparedness, -prevention, and -response. I’ve even been invited for a wedding through a Red Cross staffer today (Friday). So that will be interesting.

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Tuvaluans at the airstrip playing Te Ano. It's simply facinating and involves a lot of laughter from the participants. Two teams hit the ball with their back hand and need to keep it in the air. The loosing team must sit down and watch the winning team dance the "fatale" dance.

On a final note, Tuesday’s aircraft brought in some interesting people. Among them I met three kind Swedes and a nice Lithuanian. One of the Swedes had been to 80 countries and the Lithuanian to 175 plus many territories. We’ve had some interesting conversations. The Swedes left already on the Thursday flight (which was already a less spectacular experience than the arrival of Tuesdays flight) so just two nights. The Lithuanian, Danas Pankevicius, is a heck of an adventurer. Sure, I have compiled enough adventures over the years to write a solid book but Danas might be able to write ten! You can find him as Danas Around The World on FB and IG. He’s flying out tomorrow, Saturday, after four nights in Funafuti. I’m in for 30 nights at least! It seems harsh on Tuvalu to say this but I don’t want to be here for that long! I want to go home and as fast as possible!!! Well, I need to deal with reality and as such I will likely join a domestic ferry on a roundtrip to several of the other islands. Most people do not get to see Tuvalu within their lifetime (it is one of the worlds least visited countries). Most visitors only see Funafuti before they fly out again. I guess I’ll be among the very few who have been to Tuvalu and have visited several islands. The ferry stops should leave me with at least half a day on each of the islands I get to go to (2-4). Departure around January 17th. Domestically the ferries operate much timelier than when they occasionally travel internationally.

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Yeah - some of Funafuti looks like this.

Alright, I guess I will tell you a bit about Tuvalu Prison (Vaiaku Jail) and Darwin’s theory on the formation of atolls in another entry. And about running on an active runway in pitch black darkness at night? Please donate to the Once Upon A Saga campaign for Ukraine if you can – I see it has slowed down and I don’t understand why? Donor fatigue? Are you poor? Have you already donated elsewhere? Are you heartless? Is something more important to you? I’m just guessing away…as mentioned, the bar is quite high with me. Are you ready to raise the bar too? No matter what – thanks for your support and have a great weekend. And a special shoutout to Ross DK and GEOOP for their tireless support.

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I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - a country closer to home!!

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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